Fables of Purgatory: III. A Horizontal Job

L’Angoisse qui fait les fous.
L’Angoisse qui fait les suicidés.



++++Poor Miguel Ángel. I’ve always said he had the worst
luck. There are lucky dogs—but he’s one unlucky dog.
++++He had looked for work. The offices emery-polished
and the banks full. He had looked with the utmost sadness.
++++One day he crossed an avenue—Corrientes, I believe,
or 9 de Julio—and disappeared.
++++That is to say, his vertical motion disappeared. For the
line of passing cars was so long he was submerged in the
asphalt. All that remained in sight were his eyes, his mouth,
his hands.
++++The asphalt has waves with which to defend Miguel
Ángel’s face and hands from the wheels of cars.
++++Once informed, the Mayor paid him a visit to offer him
the position of Talking Traffic Light.
++++Poor Miguel Ángel, I say. He had to end up drowned in
asphalt in order to get a job.
++++Of course now he no longer does anything he likes. He
only shouts traffic rules and even so the people scorn him.
Yesterday someone—unintentionally, but still—stepped on
his hand.
++++What a world. What shadows. Surely now he will never
die by the sea.


L’Angoisse qui fait les fous.
L’Angoisse qui fait les suicidés.



++++Pobre Miguel Ángel. Siempre he dicho que tuvo una
suerte perra. Hay perros que tienen suerte; pero él es un
perro perro.
++++Buscaba empleo. Las oficinas esmeriladas y los bancos
llenos. Tristísimamente buscaba.
++++Un día cruzó una avenida, creo Corrientes o 9 de Julio y
++++Es decir, desapareció su andar vertical. Porque fue tal la
fila de coches que pasó, que lo hundieron en el asfalto. Sólo
quedaron a la luz sus ojos, su boca, sus manos.
++++El asfalto tiene olas, con ellas defiende de las ruedas de
los autos el rostro y las manos de Miguel Ángel.
++++Enterado el Intendente, lo visitó para ofrecerle el puesto
de Semáforo Parlante.
++++Pobre Miguel Ángel, digo. Hubo de quedar ahogado en
el asfalto para conseguir empleo.
++++Claro que ya no hace más nada de lo que le gusta. Sólo
grita reglas de tránsito y aún así la gente lo desprecia. Una
ayer, sin querer pero igual, le pisó una mano.
++++Qué mundo. Qué sombras. Ciertamente ya no morirá
junto al mar.

Translator’s Note

“A Horizontal Job” belongs to the series “Fables of Purgatory” from Fragmentos fantásticos, Miguel Ángel Bustos’s third book of poems published in 1965. This book marks his departure from the predominant aesthetic of the Argentine generation of 1960 toward a more narrative, epic poetics. Still, the conversational tone and center in Buenos Aires for which that generation is known enlivens this poem and makes it fun to translate. “A Horizontal Job” describes a predicament familiar to any poet, yet it is darkened by an awareness of the widespread disenfranchisement and unemployment of young Argentines at the time—and now. The poem opens with an untranslatable pun on “suerte perra,” an expression meaning bad luck that uses the word dog. Bustos’s identification with dogs is picked up later on in the series, in poems where he uses the animals metaphorically. In order to capture Bustos’s comic timing, I’ve relied on punctuation and fragment, stripping away any extraneous words to create clipped, punchy lines. While Bustos hopes to die by the sea, the language of the poem—“waves,” “drowned”— suggests that the asphalt is a man-made ocean, and part of the poet’s pain comes from his bitter recognition of the subjugation of nature.

Lucina SchellLucina Schell works in international rights for the University of Chicago Press and is founding editor of Reading in Translation. Her translations of Miguel Ángel Bustos appear in Ezra Translation Journal, The Bitter Oleander, Drunken Boat, and Seven Corners, and her literary reviews appear in Ezra and Jacket2.

captureMiguel Ángel Bustos (1932-1976) was a major poet of the Argentine Generation of 1960, an illustrator, and a literary critic. Among his five published books of poetry, Visión de los hijos del mal, with a prologue by Leopoldo Marechal, earned the second Buenos Aires Municipal Prize for Poetry in 1968. Bustos became an early victim of the military dictatorship, which ushered in decades of censorship of his poetry. His collected poetry was republished in 2008, the first time it had appeared in print in more than thirty years. Bustos’ remains were identified in 2014 by forensic anthropologists.